tv Fault Lines Al Jazeera October 16, 2014 5:30pm-6:01pm EDT
two big announcements pave the way for more people to cancel their t.v. service. that and more coming up tonight at 6:00. >> let us bow our heads for a word of prayer. our father and our most gracious god. as this family, the murdough family and their friends, as they gather, we ask that you send your comforter, your holy spirit, your guide, to be with them. >> queens, new york. jerome murdough's family is laying him to rest. four months ago, 56-year-old jerome was arrested for trespassing, and booked into new
york's rikers island jail. >> you going to be missed big bro. me and him, we had a special connection, special relationship. >> seven days later, he was found dead in his cell. >> they said he was baked to death. heat. his room temperature reached well over 100 degrees with no ventilation. >>there's no words to explain. it just looks like you came from a building that caught on fire. >> he was blacker than my hair. he was darker than my hair. >> jerome was a former marine, who suffered from bipolar disorder and alcohol abuse. >> a week went by and we didn't hear from him, then two weeks, then it was 3 weeks. then my mother started saying, something it ain't right. >> his family says he never should have been in jail. but a judge had set his bail at two thousand five hundred dollars. that's how much it would have cost him to walk free before his
trial. since jerome couldn't afford to pay, he was sent back to rikers island, to wait for his trial. in this episode of fault lines, we look at how courts handle the accused before trial. it's a story about a multibillion-dollar industry - bail bonds - and a justice system in which money determines who goes free, and who stays behind bars. it's four pm in the sacramento suburbs. we're riding with a team of bounty hunters, looking for a fugitive. >> so this is a skip of somebody who was charged with drug possession and she's on a $20 thousand dollar bail, and she failed to turn up for court in
december. >> around fifteen thousand bounty hunters operate in the united states. bail bond companies hire them to track down criminal defendants who have skipped their court dates. we're with rob dick, one of america's most famous bounty hunters. this is his partner, roger adair. >> yeah it's right here, in that court, on the left side. >> hey. >> there's a suburban in the driveway. it's in the court. >> the house to the last one on the left side. >> they are hunting for a woman charged with drug possession. if they can't find her, the bondsman who bailed her out of jail will owe the local court twenty thousand dollars. >> if it is her, i'll just do something like "hey!" or, you know, hey. that's your key to come, that
it's her. >> bounty hunters, and the bail bond companies they work for, are the core of a uniquely american industry: commercial bail. bail bond companies in the us earn over $2 billion dollars every year. >> they got three pit bulls inside. >> in all but four states, the companies are legally allowed to take almost any measure necessary to capture a client - including crossing state lines, and breaking into homes. it's a dangerous business for everyone involved, with few rules and little oversight.
>> hey, stevie? get your dogs back before i shoot 'em. >> okay. >> get your dogs back before i shoot them! alright, well get your dogs in a room right now. >> alright stevie. >> what the hell? >> we just got to deal with your warrants. it's no big deal. >> that's fine. >> okay? put some pants on. let's go. anybody else in the house? alright. whatever you need put some pants on or something >> just got to be careful what you're grabbing for is all, you know. >> seven months ago, stevie light was arrested for growing marijuana with an expired permit, and possession of cocaine. a judge set her bail at twenty thousand dollars. she couldn't afford it, so her father went to a bail bond company.
for ten percent down - two thousand dollars - the company bailed her out of jail. when stevie didn't show up to court, the company became liable for the full twenty thousand. >> how old are you? >> i'm 21. i turn 22 in october. >> what you think is going to happen next? >> well, i'm going to be locked back up and then i'm probably going to stay in there until my court date. and from there i probably will get sentenced. i guess i just have to do it and get it out of the way. that is how the system works. i mean everyone at the end of the day is just doing their job. >> the us and the philippines are the only countries in the world that allow private companies to bail people out of jail at a profit. under california bail rules, stevie can get out of jail again by paying the same company
another one thousand dollars. the assumption that defendants who pay money up front are more likely to return to court is central to the way justice works in the united states. every time someone is arrested, a judge must determine whether they will be incarcerated or released before trial. >> we would actually be asking for an o.r., or a very low bail. most defendants ask to be released for free, on the understanding that they'll show up for their court date. >> my biggest concern is your likelihood to appear in court, as well as the fact... >> but most have to pay >> i'm going to set your bail at $20,000, which is actually below schedule. >> for bail bondsmen, the court is where the market is set.
each bail decision can mean a new payday, when defendants are willing to come up with ten percent of their bail to but their release. it's the reason why this courthouse, like most others across the country, is surrounded by bail bond shops. >> in california, if it's a $25 thousand dollar bond and you ain't got the money to afford it, i understand you're innocent until proven guilty, but you're going to stay in jail until you go to trial. >> leonard padilla is the face of the bail business in sacramento. >> this is some office you have. >> rattlesnakes, you ever heard of them? stick your tongue out for him, come on. good girl. >> you're quite into wildlife. >> now semi-retired, he says he spends more time in his office talking to his parrot than chasing fugitives. >> leonard and rob used to star in their own tv show.
>> tracking down fugitives no one else can find. >> leonard told us that in sacramento county alone, courts set twelve million dollars in bail every month. >> twelve million a month, that's $144 in a year. that's 10% of the total penal amount in california, which is usually between a billion and a half and two billion. and you take 8 to 10% of that, that's a big chunk of cash. all of a sudden you've got people saying if we got our hands on some of this we'd be in good shape. >> from your perspective, it's probably better that people keep getting arrested, right? because then you have to keep bailing them out of prison. >> the more arrests the more people are needed for bail. the more skip, the better off i am. were it not for crime, there are a lot of jobs that wouldn't be available. we're the only ones in the business that don't make the money off the taxpayer. >> in which business?
>> in the crime business. everybody is in the crime business. the criminal, the judge, the defendants, attorney, the guy that builds the jail, the people that pass the laws over at the legislature. they all make a chunk of money off the crimes. >> catch more "faultlines" episodes on demand or at aljazeera.com/faultlines. >> i wanted to be in on the big >> many of these involved
with one of the highest arrest rates in the country, it's a great place to be a bail bondsman. across the street from the court, james daniels and his family have stopped in to make a payment. a few months ago, james was charged with theft, and his bail was set at three thousand five hundred dollars. >> they give bails sometimes too high for some of the littlest things. but i guess it's to teach you a lesson. >> he didn't have the money for the $350 fee, but this bondsman agreed to accept payment in installments. >> have a nice day. >> alright man. thanks for workinwith me >> take care of them babies. >> oh yeah, i'm trying to. >> bail bonds! >> so you're eight minutes away. just bring him into the office. >> another bondsman, dennis sew, just got a call that two bounty hunters he hired are on their way - they've captured one of
his "skips." >> on about september 9th, 2013, we bail out tony deshawn mccoy from the baltimore county detention center. >> how much was his bail? >> $50,000 dollars. >> that's a high one. >> yeah. >> so it's petty theft basically. >> it's theft, but multiple counts. >> tony mccoy was arrested for writing bad checks. he'd missed a court date one month ago...dennis tracked him down in north carolina. >> welcome back to baltimore! >> the bounty hunters grabbed tony at four this morning in charlotte. most of tony's family lives
there, including his fiancee and young son. >> how come you didn't go to court, man? >> because my brother, right now he's sick, he's a diabetic, he about died about a week ago, and he's still in critical condition, and i was down there. >> they're going to take deshawn and charge him, book him on the bench warrant when he missed court. >> they're going to take him to jail? to the central bookings? >> yes. >> if they offered you the same 50,000 bail, how easy is that for you to get that kind of money together to post? >> [shakes head] nothing is easy for me. i don't have nobody's number i can contact. i can't get in touch with anybody. >> what do you think is going to happen next? >> i think the worst case scenario is probably a couple months. a couple of months is enough to lose your life, simple.
when you are a person that's living from check to check, or job to job, nothing put away. you don't have a nice 401k put away, you miss one paycheck that's rent. now they filing eviction papers. now they padlocking. when they padlock that's everything you own, cause you can't get that. so, what i have on right here, right now, when i walk out, this is what i have on. that'll be everything i own. it's over. >> tony is headed to the baltimore city detention center, one of the largest jails in the country.
ninety percent of its inmates have not yet gone to trial. some defendants spend as long as four months in here awaiting trial. the average wait for those who can't afford bail is over six weeks. people who are incarcerated before trial are far more likely to plead guilty. they often face more time in jail than the length of their potential sentence. >> if you are detained even briefly pretrial, there is a provable dramatic increase in the length and severity of the ultimate outcome of a criminal case - just because you're held pretrial. judge truman morrison serves on the superior court of the district of columbia. for years he has advocated for bail reform. >> two-thirds of the jail
population in the united states of america tonight are people awaiting trial. people who our law presumes to be innocent because they have not yet had their trial. those people have not been put there because they have been found by any process to be too dangerous or too unlikely to come back. they're almost all there simply because they don't have the money to purchase their freedom. >> we wanted to speak to inmates who find themselves in that position...but baltimore's jail refused to allow us inside. we were granted access to the second largest jail in maryland: the prince george's county detention center. >> every year, thirty thousand people pass
through this facility. the ones who remain inside tend to be like samuel kayira - out of touch with family, with a history of misdemeanors. samuel was arrested for stealing from a wine store. his bail was set at two thousand dollars. >> hey, how's it going? i'm sebastian. >> i'm sam. >> good to meet you sam. >> so, would they have been able to help, your family? with a $2,000 bail, that means they would have had to front you $200 in order for you to be released on bail. >> well, it's $2,000 if you don't have a bondsman. and, i never, to be honest, i don't think they could afford it. >> even just $200 bucks? >> yeah. >> how long do you expect to be
in here? >> at least until next month when my trial comes. maybe they will drop my case. i'm not too sure about that. but that's what i'm waiting for next month, trial case. >> larry clark was arrested for trespassing. he has been in jail for a month and a half on a $2600 bond, and his first court date is three weeks away. >> if you ain't got it, you ain't got it. there was a time my bond was $250. so how much was that to bond out? >> $25 >> yeah. >> $25 dollars and you couldn't bail out on that either? so it doesn't really matter how much they set. you're staying in jail, because you don't have the money. >> yep.
>> larry is 58. he has been homeless for a decade. >> since 2004, how much time would you say you spent in jail? it's every year? >> every month almost. no, every two months almost. >> really? >> yea. >> so how does that make you feel about this place? it's almost like a part of your life. >> mmhmm. hmm hmm. >> catch more "faultlines" episodes on demand or at aljazeera.com/faultlines.
>> the purpose of money bail is to make sure that people who have been arrested ultimately show up for court. but if you drive just thirty minutes from maryland into washington dc, there's a completely different system in place. and yet, out of everyone arrested in this city, almost all of them show up for court. >> judges in washington are allowed to set money bail only if the defendant can afford it.
they are also allowed to detain - without bail - anyone they deem too risky for release. the results have been far fewer people spending time behind bars. >> we are the only city in america where tonight, at our jail, there's not a single man or woman who is sitting because they don't have the money to meet their money bond. >> since the adoption of that rule twenty years ago, money bail, and bail bond companies, have all but disappeared. in their place, washington uses a federally funded pretrial program that functions like parole, requiring defendants to check in on a regular basis, or wear an ankle monitor. >> ninety percent of the people come back, ninety percent of the people are not rearrested. we are proof, living proof, that you don't need money. >> the bail bond industry views
public programs as a direct threat to business. in maryland this spring, it campaigned hard against a bill that would have mandated pretrial services statewide. the bill died in the state assembly. >> our job was to point out our strengths, why commercial bail works better than any other form of release and that's what i did. nothing more. >> lobbyist barry udoff led the fight. he says the bail industry saves taxpayers money. >> you always hear the numbers that there are all these people in jail on very small bails of $2,500 dollars or less on any given day and these people don't belong in jail. first of all, i don't think there's that many of 'em. >> well just down the street in baltimore city detention center, it's around one out of every fourteen people is on bail of
less than $5,000 dollars. >> okay. and... >> and 90 percent of the people in that detention center are there pretrial. >> are there pretrial. okay, yeah. in baltimore city jail, detention center. >> so under the current system, they have to just stay in jail. >> they have to stay in jail, correct. but there's a reason why a judge put a bond on them to begin with. they're high risk. just because the bond is low doesn't necessarily mean that they're not a high risk. a lot of these people are people who really belong in mental institutions, have no fixed addresses, so just release them? i don't see how you just release them because the bond is a low bond. i don't know what the answer is. i don't know that, i don't know that they don't belong in jail though. it may be the safest place for them in some cases.
>> the price that we pay for allowing money and bail bondsmen is immense. high-risk people buy their way out of jail. low risk people sit in jail, all at tremendous cost. >> when jerome murdough was arrested, he was sleeping in an enclosed staircase in harlem public housing. his mother alma says he'd been visiting a friend in the building. >> just because my son is 50-something years old, sleeping in the hallway, you give him a $2,500 bail for sleeping. something is wrong with that picture. they need to check it out, real fast. >> alma found out about jerome's death one month later, when she was called by a reporter.
to this day, she has never been contacted by officials at rikers island jail, or by anyone in new york city government. >> back in my days, if you was sleeping on the street, on a bench somewhere, they would tap you on the bottom of your feet and tell you to take a walk. and now they want to put you in jail so the city can pay the money. that's ludicrous. that's crazy. >> just don't let it happen to another mother's son, that's all. just don't think that he's homeless, he a bum, he have nobody because he has somebody. he got sisters and brothers. he got mothers and fathers. >> on the day jerome was arrested, the prosecutor had offered him sixty days in jail if he pled guilty. he rejected the offer. >> our problem is not that we have people in jail.
our problem is that we have all the wrong people in jail, and having all the wrong people in jail is something we should all care about. the cold reality is that it is the powerless people who are kept in jail for want of a few hundred dollars. they are the people who suffer just because they're too poor to purchase their liberty before their trial. >> catch more "faultlines" episodes on demand or at aljazeera.com/faultlines.